Policy Engagements and Blogs

Gender and urban sanitation inequalities in everyday lives

Susan Esme Chaplin

August 1, 2017


Susan E Chaplin finds that existing literature provides little evidence of how sanitation inequalities impact the daily lives of poor women and girls.

What is the research about?

In this working paper, Susan Chaplin examines existing literature to find out what is known about how inequalities in urban sanitation access impacts the lives of poor women and girls, who have to queue up each morning to use public toilets, or have to decide which open defecation sites are the least dangerous to use.

How was the research conducted?’

The 68 articles and reports discussed in this literature review were largely collected using Google Scholar searches and the website Sanitation Updates, which provides regular email alerts on recently published journal articles and reports. Most of the evidence-based research and grey literature focused on India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and South Africa

What are the key findings?

Despite the focus on gender inequalities and sanitation in low income countries, within development goals, programmes, and projects, only 16 articles and reports either addressed gender inequalities or used gender analysis in examining results from their research projects.
The urban sanitation inequalities faced by working women, along with those who were ageing, disabled or living on pavements, has been largely ignored in the literature.
The linkages between gender-based violence and the lack of urban sanitation are poorly researched, documented or addressed in practice.
There is a lack of understanding in urban sanitation policies of how gender inequalities create toilet insecurity for millions of women and girls.


To understand how gender inequality operates at multiple levels across societies in the cities of the Global South, in relation to sanitation access, there is a critical need for better data collection which is gender aggregated. Most national statistics, at best, often just provide a very broad overview of sanitation facilities at the household level. These statistics don’t provide an adequate overview of the everyday lives of poor women and girls who are compelled to develop strategies to cope with lack of access to safe sanitation facilities. For many poor women and girls, this specifically means finding ways to cope with gender-based violence that occurs around community/public toilets and open defecation sites.
There is an urgent need to develop gender-sensitive understanding of the heterogeneous nature of slums and informal settlements, the diversity of the people who live in them, and the relationships between them, if urban sanitation inequalities are to be addressed to meet Sustainable Development Goals.
Data and research is also needed on how this lack of access impacts poor women and girls, women working in informal sectors, women with disabilities, ageing women, and homeless women. The understanding created by this new research could then be used to develop more appropriate and effective strategies to reduce gender inequalities in urban sanitation provision.